The Scottish Independence Referendum- Lessons Learned for the Future: Edinburgh School of Law Research Paper No. 2016/19

Research output: Working paper

Abstract / Description of output

This paper analyses the lessons learned from Scottish independence referendum as a model for future referendums held by sub-state national units to decide on their constitutional future, either for Scotland and further afield. It begins by highlighting the main positive aspects of the process. It argues that the Scottish independence referendum was an example of political negotiation and agreement between the Scottish and UK governments that provided a solid legal framework for the referendum, including the setting of a clear, neutral and independently tested question. This enabled an extensive informed and deliberative process focused on the central issue to be decided: independence for Scotland. The paper then considers two factors that added unnecessary uncertainty to the referendum debate and had an impact on the decisiveness of the outcome. The first was the importance of continuing EU membership for Scotland and the lack of a clear position in EU law on what would happen in the case of a ‘Yes’ vote. The second was the removal of the intermediate option between ‘independence’ and the ‘status quo’ from the ballot paper, despite it being the preferred option of a significant majority of Scottish citizens. The paper concludes that a clear and effectively neutral position from the EU would be required to avoid this issue affecting the debate and decision on an internal constitutional issue, and that more generally a multi-option referendum may be more suited to providing an encompassing debate on the sub-state national unit’s constitutional future and a more decisive outcome.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherUniversity of Edinburgh, School of Law, Working Papers
Number of pages25
Publication statusPublished - 25 Aug 2016

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • referendum
  • independence
  • self-determination
  • secession
  • devolution
  • Scotland
  • Catalonia
  • Scotland and the European Union
  • federalism


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